A Brief History
Most Americans know that on December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a massive aerial surprise attack against U.S. military forces on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, mainly at Pearl Harbor. Every year on this date we are reminded of that “dastardly attack” by the various news media and by educational television channels running Pearl Harbor documentaries and conspiracy programs. What many Americans today do not seem to remember, are the other Japanese attacks launched that day!
These neglected battles and American lives lost get only a fraction of the coverage of Pearl Harbor, and they include attacks at American installations in the Philippine Islands, Guam, and Wake Island. Along with those attacks, the Japanese also attacked British Empire outposts in Hong Kong, Malaya, and Singapore, and declared war on Britain (The United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) as well as on the United States.
Japanese strategists seem foolish in hindsight attacking two such powerful countries and without their own allies, but they planned this war of aggression carefully and presented the plans and the case for war to Emperor Hirohito, who approved them. (Note: After the war, the Allies found it expedient to overlook the culpability of the Emperor and pretend that the civilian and military leaders conducted this war without the royal collusion. This expedience was done in order to use Hirohito as a puppet to help maintain order in an occupied Japan after the war. It worked well!)
Japanese forces never did get a chance to follow up on the Hawaii attack, and never did invade those islands, but they did follow up the surprise attacks on Wake, Guam, and The Philippines with further attacks and invasions resulting in their seizing those islands as military outposts. Notable among the British targets that day, Singapore (“The Gibraltar of the Pacific”), believed by British leadership to be unconquerable, was besieged and taken over by a much smaller and weaker Japanese force, that stronghold being surrendered without much of a fight. Singapore represents perhaps the most lopsided defeat in British History and devastated the psyche of the British people, much as the Pearl Harbor attack stunned Americans.
These sneak attacks, sucker punches if you will, resulted in much more benefit to the Japanese than the materiel and men lost by the allies. They signaled a ruthless and ferocious capacity of a very modern and capable Japanese war machine, causing much confusion and despair at the time (more so in Britain than the U.S.). Ultimately, the nature of the attacks so enraged Americans and steeled their resolve, that the national sentiment backed the official policy of fighting the Japanese until they were totally defeated and would not be left with any realistic threat. This consequences of course, is exactly what happened, and these great Japanese victories actually led to their absolute defeat!
Question for students (and subscribers): Should Japan have realized that attacking the United States was a mistake? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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The attacks of December 7, 1941 have been widely covered in numerous scholarly and popular history books. For more information, please see…
Arakaki, Leatrice R., John R. Kuborn, et al. 7 December 1941: The Air Force Story. Military Bookshop, 2011.
Cressman, Robert J. and J. Michael Wenger. Infamous Day: Marines at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941 (Marines in World War II Commemorative Series). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
Stone, Scott C. S. Pearl Harbor: The Way it Was. Island Heritage, 2003.
Weintraub, Stanley. Long Day’s Journey into War: December 7, 1941. Dutton, 1991.
The featured image in this article, a photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack, is in the public domain in Japan because its copyright has expired according to Article 23 of the 1899 Copyright Act of Japan (English translation) and Article 2 of Supplemental Provisions of Copyright Act of 1970. This is when the photograph meets one of the following conditions:
- It was published before January 1, 1957.
- It was photographed before January 1, 1947.
It is also in the public domain in the United States because its copyright in Japan expired by 1970 and was not restored by the Uruguay Round Agreements Act.